By Andy Walker
FOR THE SOU’WESTER
Despite pressure from both sides of the legislature, Premier Robert Ghiz remains on the fence when it comes to renewing the low interest loan program for fishermen.
The Liberal government introduced the measure shortly after it came to office in 2007 at the request of the industry. The PEI Fishermen’s Association made the same request of the previous Conservative government of Pat Binns to no avail.
The loan program has been extended on a number of occasions since that time and is currently scheduled to come up for renewal next July.
Belfast-Murray River MLA Charlie McGeoghegan, who is a fisherman by profession, said the program has worked well and has kept a number of fishermen on the water. In the PEI legislature he wanted to know whether the premier had given any thought to keeping the program going after next summer.
“This is something that is extremely important to our government,” the premier said. “It has benefitted Island fishers probably in the amount of around $10 million, and it’s something that we believe is a very worthwhile program.”
McGeoghegan asked if the Department of Fisheries and the PEI Lending Agency would look into extending the program, “so that they are ready come this July.”
However, the premier refused to answer directly, saying there is a need to work towards higher prices and develop new markets for Island lobster.
“We want to see our older fishers be able to get out with the dignity that they deserve and we want to make it accessible for our young fishers to get in,” he continued. “We know right now that the price of lobster is not where it should be, it is still too low.”
He did commit to asking the two departments to sit down “to analyze whether or not this can be
continued, and if in fact those mitigating circumstances still do exist, this will be something that we’ll look to help out our fisheries industry with.”
The following day, Opposition Fisheries Critic Colin LaVie took up the charge. LaVie, who is also a fisherman, asked the premier to “firmly commit to extending this vital program.”
Ghiz said his answer depends on lobster prices.
“If it’s going to be needed, based on low prices and low catches, which I hope is not the case, obviously our government, that’s been there for the fishers, is going to make sure we’ll be there to do something,” he said.
However, the premier added if the price rises to “five, six, and $7 a pound, which we hope it will, and catches all over the province go up to 15 to 25,000 pounds, well then, obviously we won’t need a low interest loan program.”